There’s not enough focus anymore on the basics.  Everyone seems to encourage ignoring the fundamentals.  Some of the best-selling books, like The 4-Hour Work Week (and Ferris’ new The 4-Hour Body) advocate shortcuts to everything.  Make a good weekly wage in just four hours of work per week.  Delegate everything while you go off and have fun.  It’s not that I want to be a naysayer and put down time-saving ideas.  But too often shortcuts just don’t work.  At first they might seem as though they work.  But in time serious flaws in quality become evident when basic steps and core activities are ignored in order to get something done fast.

My own experience with music helped to teach me this.  I learned how to play the organ in my teens.  I loved it.  And I made some progress, eventually playing pieces by Baroque composers.  But something was always missing in my playing, and I knew it.  I could often get though a difficult piece, but it was usually sloppy.  The timing was off here and there.  My fingers would sometimes hit the keys slightly off center, slipping a bit when I moved them.  It makes me think of what the professional classical guitarist Glenn Kurtz wrote in his book Practicing.  Writing about a time when he sat listening to recordings made during his early years of playing.  He said:

“The peformance was full of musical ideas.  But no piece was good from start to finish.  No whole movement sustained its mood…There were mistakes that everyone would hear, everyone would feel.  The music had my hands all over it, holding on to every note, trying to keep from losing myself by giving too much away.  Instead of playing the music, I’d strangled it.”

The contributing factors to his musical struggle are different than mine, but the result is similar to my own experience.  In my case (and I am sure it is true in many cases, not just with music but in many different activities), the root of the problem was just that-  the roots, the fundamental movements of the fingers when playing even the simplest piece.  I lacked an immediate recognition of notes which the mind should not have to translate because they are so embedded into one’s memory that they cause an instantaneous reaction of hitting the right keys.  I was always rushing on to playing new pieces before truly mastering the piece I was working on, before taking the time to slowly and deliberately think out what I was doing.  Come to think of it, I don’t remember ever having practiced scales.  Who wants to?  They’re boring.  But that’s where the key lies (no pun intended).  Scales in music slowly condition the muscles in the fingers, hands and wrists, enabling them to take on the tasks of playing real music.  And there were other aspects to my playing that needed to be perfected, basic skills, so that playing the organ would eventually become like breathing- done almost effortlessly.

And it is the same with so many other areas of life.  We want everything fast and easy, without the work, the tedious analysis, the pain-staking effort and rapt attention that development of skills requires.

But the work must be done.  It’s only then when we feel genuinely satisfied.

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